Jan. 15, 2013 — Animals move around the globe in billions, sometimes -- like the snow bunting -- one of the iconic Arctic-breeding species, covering huge distances and enduring the most extreme frigid weather conditions. In this conspicuously white sparrow-sized bird, animal migration epitomizes a stunning success of biological adaptation -- with Snow Bunting representing the only songbird to breed as far north as the Arctic Circle. Indeed, there is nothing north of the snow bunting's breeding ground except the North Pole and the polar ice cap. These passerines thrive in chilly, alpine conditions, playing and singing in temperatures dipping as low as -20F.
Although snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) have so far been considered common and widespread, enjoying stable numbers and extensive nesting and wintering habitats, their North American populations have shrunk by 64% over the past four decades, according to the National Audubon Society.
These alarming statistics may reflect how nature and wildlife are responding to climate change and rising temperatures. Because snow buntings need snow and cold, the increasingly warmer winters are the species' primary long-term threat. And although considerable attention is currently being paid to the conservation of migratory birds, this species remains still relatively under-studied. New data and novel methods of research are needed to assess the conservation implications of habitat changes in wintering locations as well as the effects of climate change on their breeding success. Fresh light on the migration patterns of remote populations of this avian species is shed by the recent work of a group led and inspired by Prof. Oliver P. Love -- a wildlife biologist from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.